BMCR 1997.06.06

1997.6.6, Cunliffe/Keay, edd., Social Complexity/Development of Towns/Iberia

Barry W. Cunliffe, S. J. Keay, British Academy., Social complexity and the development of towns in Iberia : from the Copper Age to the second century AD. Proceedings of the British Academy, 86. Oxford: Published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1995. 476 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.. ISBN 9780197261576 $65.00.

The Iberian Peninsula has a long history of active archaeological investigation and publication, much of it sponsored by the state governments of Spain and Portugal. However, since the death of Francisco Franco in the mid-1970’s and the subsequent redistribution of political power, so that a greater role is being played by the local autonomias of Spain, archaeological work has exploded, and there has been an enormous surge in archaeological publications ranging from site monographs to long site report articles to synthesis studies to collected papers of symposia. The volume under review falls into the last category. The bulk of these publications are in Spanish and Portuguese and Catalan and much is confined to regional archaeological journals and local monograph series with little distribution outside of the Peninsula. The appearance of this new volume edited by Cunliffe and Keay, brings together in English versions papers presented before the British Academy over a three day period in February of 1995. There are eighteen papers, all given by leading players in the present archaeological scene on the Peninsula. The publication of such a volume in English makes available for the first time in many years, a massive overview of the current state of archaeological investigation and discussion of ancient Iberia.

The focus of the collected papers is on urban development from its inception through the period of the High Empire. Such a focus reflects a interest that has informed much archaeological interpretive work on the peninsula beginning in 1976 with the important symposium on Augustan urbanization, the 1986 congress on the development of the forum in the setting of the Peninsula, through the two major international symposia on Iberian urbanization held earlier in this decade. Twenty years of reflection on the topic combined with intensive archaeological field work have produced interesting readings of the material evidence, important for an understanding of the dynamics effecting developments on the Peninsula itself and throughout the western regions of ancient Europe and the Mediterranean.

The majority of those contributing to the British Academy colloquium are well established scholars whose careers have become linked to the specific sites or regions about which they offered papers. Thus, Aubet discusses the general developmental patterns along the south coast during the Phoenicia and Punic periods; Niemeyer traces the archaeological history of the Phoenician settlement at Toscanos; Shefton considers the distribution of Greek ceramic imports; Sanmarti-Grego concentrates on Emporion (Ampurias), and Dupre i Raventos provides an overview of Roman Tarraco. To anyone familiar with the work of these cited scholars, what they write here will not appear terribly new. They have developed these ideas and themes elsewhere, though I note that Sanmarti-Grego’s has not, to my knowledge, published an earlier study of the quarries and breakwater at Emporion. The value of these essays to someone new to the field is their clarity, thoughtful consideration of the evidence, meaningful presentation of the issues, and intelligent analyses, all the result of many years of consistent and intensive work with the material and associated problems. Obviously there are refinements to ideas and themes presented earlier, as in Aubet’s discussion of the shift in geo-political power from the Phoenician world of the Levant to the Punic world based in the West. While some of the sites have long bibliographies stretching back to the last century (i.e. Emporion, Tarraco, Italica), others have only recently appeared in the archaeological literature (i.e. Puente Tablas in eastern Andalucia, Astorga in the northwest, and Santa Pola in Alicante), and their inclusion in this volume represents their first presentation in English.

Several of the papers are more synthetic in nature and bring together much disparate scholarly material into a coherent overview. Papers such as Cunliffe’s consideration of the role of Iberian geography as a primary factor in cultural development into the Roman period, Almagro-Gorbea’s discussion of hill forts and oppida, and Keay’s analysis of the processes of Roman urbanization provide new ways of thinking about the archaeological evidence. They are reflective of the growing interest in analytical techniques used with such success in New World studies as applied to Mediterranean settings. Cunliffe writes what has become a standard consideration of the environmental factors effecting cultural forms. Almagro-Gorbea’s contribution brings together a wealth of recent archaeological research and earlier archaeological discussions to present what is, I believe, the most complete overview of Celtic urbanization on the Peninsula. He tries to capture the historical ebb and flow of the current of urban experimentation in the Celtic areas. Keay has taken up the challenge of interpreting the archaeological record to produce some understanding of the process of Romanization on the Peninsula. This has been done by every generation of archaeologists working with Iberian material, for the question of how the Romans succeeded in making the Iberian Peninsula Roman during the roughly 800 years of Roman occupation remains a mystery since the similar experience of 800 years of Arab occupation with its associated high level of cultural attainment did not succeed in the same way at all. Though Keay introduces much new material, his conclusions are remarkably similar to those of a generation ago, the successful penetration of Rome on the Peninsula began with Augustus.

Cunliffe and Keay’s volume makes several important contributions. Almost all the authors keep on track which means that the essays, even when discussing well-known sites and established interpretations, present new ideas and fresh readings because of the need to work within the carefully prescribed boundaries and set theme. The contributions can be read in association with one another, and often do a fine job of supporting and augmenting each other. This is particularly the case with the Phoenician material and the Spanish Celtic/Iron Age papers. The papers devoted to the Portuguese Iron Age and Castro culture are a much needed addition to the studies of this period in Europe as a whole and address a subject last fully explored in English in the 1960’s.

The Iberian Peninsula has been overlooked more frequently than not in studies of ancient Europe and the Mediterranean. In part this is linguistic. Most scholars do not include Spanish, Portuguese, much less Catalan, among the languages with which they are comfortable. They tend to avoid the Peninsula or look for studies of aspects of it in English, French, or German. The result has been a much distorted understanding of the internal history of the peninsula by all except specialists, and its contributions to the larger areas of the larger areas of the Mediterranean and Europe have been ignored. This volume does much to alleviate the problem. By presenting well crafted and thoughtfully argued essays which discuss both significant sites and important ideas in the study of the ancient scholars in the field, Cunliffe and Keay have done a great service to the larger community of scholars of ancient Europe.

The essays are all well edited and evenly translated (when translation was needed; many were written in English). There are no disturbing grammatical structures or odd syntax. All the essays are accompanied by excellent bibliographies which are up-to-date and supply the newest citations as well as the old standbys. Most of the essays are illustrated with good line drawings and a few with black-and-white photographs. The index is a nice extra and serves to make the volume far more useable as a reference tool after the volume has been read and the details forgotten.

For years, the only general source available on the Iberian Peninsula has been MacKenndrick’s much out-dated guide book, The Iberian Stones Speak. Finally there is a good, solid, scholarly option for anyone who wants to have at least a general understanding of the archaeological history and the archaeological issues being considered by the current generation of field workers and synthesizers. For those who know the material, the volume brings together much information in a digested form which is easy to use. For those with no knowledge, the volume will provide an easy way to become much better acquainted to the rich, complex, and fascinating region as it has become known to us in the last twenty years of active fieldwork investigation and publication.